A few years ago there was a story that I was told from a friend of mine who worked for an NFL organization. At a diner in Indianapolis a GM sat at a table, eating his dinner. Alone, but not really alone. At the table opposite him was the agent for an impending free agent that he wanted to sign.
The problem of course is that you couldn’t then, and you can’t now, discuss contracts with agents for impending free agents. So, the agent got up and went to the bathroom and dropped his napkin on the floor. The GM picked it up read the note and waited for the agent who walked by just as the napkin was thrown back onto the floor.
And so went numerous stories of such tampering. It’s new, it’s rampant and nothing seems to be much of a secret now. This week we already saw Sean Smith yelling “Whoa!” to a remark by former Miami Dolphins’ CB Vontae’ Davis regarding Smith and KC talking deal. Today we not only learn that it’s going on, but one player has come right out and said, “oh yeah!”
Free agent WR Joshua Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns told a local Cleveland radio show that not only has his agent talked to teams (plural) but that money has been tossed around as well and that “things are happening behind closed doors”. Which of course is a direct violation of NFL rules.
The NFL Combine isn’t the only place that soon to be free agents are contacted. Many players will get the “talk” from friends while in Hawaii for the Pro-Bowl. Or at NFL functions after the end of the season. Players try and entice and influence each other all the time. The framework for a players departure starts at times, long before a manager and an agent suddenly find a way to talk “privately”.
So how does the NFL handle this? For starters, the NFL has already acknowledged that tampering goes on. Instead of teams having to wait until the start of free agency to negotiate, teams now have a three day window (this year starting on March 9th) to negotiate contracts with the agents of free agents. In the case of Sean Smith, finding out whether Smith was indeed talking a deal with the Chiefs won’t be easy to accomplish. Cribbs however could be a lot easier.
Cribbs is still a part of the NFL and therefore he is accountable for his actions on and off the field. The NFL should and still may call Cribbs to the NY offices and put him under the hot lights to get him to reveal what teams exactly have been talking with him or his agent. If Cribbs faces a fine or suspension under the NFL’s tampering rules, he may find it hard not to give up a name or two of teams that were in fact talking with him.
Let’s understand however that this is not going to happen. No matter how much the NFL would love to find out who he is or was talking with, they won’t get enough proof to come down on the team/s involved. The NFL however needs someone to strip a draft pick or two away from. It’s the only way to clearly get the message across that they mean it when they say, “No tampering!”.
With free agency a mere 12 days away teams are more than likely going to put on more of a full court behind the door press on impending free agents in an effort to get a locked down agreement in place before the rest of the NFL can get to them on the 9th.
It’s unclear what team/s have been talking with Cribbs or any other impending free agent but it’s very likely that at some point, in some way, all 32 teams have had some contact with a player not on their roster.